Are You Better or Are You Worse?
When I was in college I went to visit a wonderful older couple, the grandfather & wife of my cousin, Gary Ellison. "Mr. Ellison", as we called him, and his wife were prevailing upon me to play the piano for them. I was reluctant because my uncle, Mr. Ellison's son, and my cousin Gary are both concert level pianists. They are fantastic. I'm just a plunker. However, they continued to prevail upon me. As I was giving in to humor this older couple and play a simple version of Amazing Grace I said, "I'm not nearly as good as Gary and Uncle Johnny." Mr. Ellison severely reprimanded me. "Don't you say that! Don't ever say you're not as good! You just have a different style!"
A different style ... yes. I've never forgotten that.
I am at an annual meeting of pastors. Pastors from all over Indiana. I have been coming to these kinds of meetings for years .... well, decades actually. It is inevitable - the comparisons. It always happens - no matter how spiritual we try to be, we still compare ourselves among ourselves. Even though we know that the Apostle Paul told us that is unwise.
The speakers are always from large successful churches. Most of the people who lead are from large successful churches. Rightly so, they have proven themselves and their gifts for leadership. The meetings are always held at large successful churches with all the best equipment. Rightly so, due to the number of people attending that have to be accommodated.
But inevitably there are the comparisons. How large is your church? How many are you running? (My uncle used to say he was more interested in how many you were catching than how many you were running!). Are you growing? How many new members do you have? How is this particular new ministry or outreach going?
Most of the time many of us end up feeling inadequate ... even feeling as if we are failing.
However, the vast majority of pastors at these meetings are not pastoring large churches. Most are not in large cities. Many are in places where the odds are so stacked against growing a large church simply because of the size of the town. Most are in towns where if anything bad happens in the church (which always does), everyone in town knows about it.
But many of these pastors in smaller towns are actually extremely successful. If you looked at things like percentage, many of the small town smaller church pastors are reaching a much larger percentage of people their communities than the so-called larger church pastors.
I hope you're still reading. Because I have great friends that are in both the big places and the small places. What does this have to do with me playing the piano?
Often, we think the pastor of the large church in the large city is a "better" pastor. Mr. Ellison was clear: "Don't you ever say that!" To paraphrase what he said about my piano playing and apply it to this conversation, "You just have different gifts."
Yes, pastors of large church in large cities are very gifted. Thank God for that. They are reaching people in great need. But here's the thing - they may not have the gifts to be a successful pastor in a smaller place, in a more rural place. Have you ever thought of it that way?
We are always thinking that the pastor in the small place may not have the gifts to lead in the large place. But the opposite may also be true. Some of the pastors in the large places shouldn't try or think about ministering in the smaller place. Their gifts would never make room for that. Some are peaceful, content, successful and have great longevity in ministry in the smaller town where the church never grows enough to be recognized. They see families changed and impacted generation after generation after generation. Being in a place like that would bring extreme frustration to someone else. And there are a lot more smaller places than larger places. Those places need leaders and pastors gifted to serve them.
So ... are you better or are you worse? Or, are you just serving in the place where you are most gifted to serve?